There is the feel and spirit of epic family saga in Diamond Head (Harper Perennial), Cecily Wong’s debut novel, yet the book is not a doorstop. Wong’s style is spare and lean and she manages to impart a feeling of abundance with a vivid and muscular economy. The opening passage illustrates:
Inside the car, it smells like hibiscus. It was his mother’s idea; something subtle, she told him, but fresh. As the man pulls from his driveway he is grateful, just this once, for his mother’s meddling. He breathes in. Already the sweet smell is working on his nerves.
We join his multigenerational story at the beginning of the 20th century when shipping magnate Frank Leong moves his family from China to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. But the move is not without mishap and the family discovers that they are haunted by the parable of the red string of fate which, as the Leongs find, can be a destructive knot within the family.
“I chose the red string to unite Diamond Head and its various generations of mothers, daughters, fathers and sons,” author Cecily Wong writes. “I stumbled upon this fable by accident, but it made such absolute sense to me, perfectly encompassing a concept I was trying to pin down: the explorations of whether or not there is such a thing as a legacy of the heart.”
Diamond Head has been critically acclaimed since it came out in hardcover a year ago, with loads of comparisons to Amy Tan, Lisa See, Gal Tsukiyama and Kaui Hart Hemmings. Frankly I don’t see it. Barnard graduate Wong has her own sharply developed voice and her own way of moving a story forward. Diamond head is modern, rich and fully formed. No comparisons necessary. She is forging her own way. ◊